Washington Memo: House must pass Violence Against Women Act
Last week I was proud to cast my vote in support of the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in the U.S. Senate with strong support from both parties. With 78 members voting “yes,” including every female member of the Senate, we have demonstrated that it is possible to put aside partisan differences long enough to get some important work done.
I would like to see us keep up the momentum.
The Violence Against Women Act is good for the country, and it’s good for New Hampshire. The bill supports essential services to address the complex issue of domestic violence. One unique challenge in this area is that violence in the home is chronically under-reported because so many victims are scared, ashamed and don’t know where to turn.
Although it is difficult to get a full picture of how widespread this epidemic is, it is estimated that at least a third of New Hampshire women have been the victim of a physical assault by an intimate partner and more than half of all women in our state have experienced sexual or physical assault over the course of their lifetime.
The Violence Against Women Act supports programs that make it easier for women to leave their abusers and report the crime. The bill provides grants to crisis centers across our state. I spoke with a woman staying at the Bridges Domestic and Sexual Violence Support Center in Nashua who told me that she called the center’s 24-hour hotline for weeks before she mustered the courage to leave her abuser. The case worker on the other end of the line offered this woman support, encouragement and ultimately, a safe place to stay.
The Strafford County Family Justice Center in Rochester also receives VAWA funds and provides women with a host of critical services under the same roof. In just one visit, women can fill out a protective order with the help of a lawyer, see a mental health professional and even speak with a police officer about her case. This centralized approach streamlines the process and makes it more likely that women will be safe and abusers will be held accountable.
Law enforcement officials also benefit from the bill. Retired police chief Timothy Russell of Henniker travels around the state teaching police officers how to respond to domestic violence cases, which are often volatile and dangerous for first responders. Money from VAWA allows him to conduct this specialized training so that police officers can identify patterns of domestic abuse and prevent situations from escalating. Prosecutors are also trained in how to effectively secure convictions against abusers.
This bill isn’t just about women or police officers or case workers. It is about every one of us. We are all better off when our citizens are safe, when our children grow up in stable homes and when violent criminals are punished. Even in Washington, we can agree on that.
The Senate has passed this bill, and now we need our colleagues in the House to do that same. We must get this bill to President Obama’s desk for his signature without delay. It’s the right thing to do for New Hampshire and for the country.
(Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator.)